All posts by Tracy Connors

National Commission on Voluntary Sector Capacity and Sustainability

A national dialogue is underway focused on changes ahead for the Public and Private Sectors; however, we have heard nothing about the Voluntary Sector.  Yet we know it will be affected by the types of changes being discussed for the governmental and business sectors. 

This Memorandum represents a call to recognize the importance of the “Quality of Life” Sector.  It suggests establishing a non-political, non-ideological, fact-based process that provides us with the data and understandings needed to make sound decisions on voluntary sector policy, education, professional development, work force readiness, and overall capacity by these organizations and their dedicated professionals and volunteers to meet growing human services needs.  Successfully doing so will help ensure the “greatness” of our future national Quality of Life. 

Tracy D. Connors, PhD


Subj:  National Commission on Voluntary Sector Capacity and Sustainability
Executive Summary

America’s Voluntary Sector of the economy – more than one million charitable, philanthropic organizations employing more than 10 million professionals – is a vital contributor to, even determiner of, any national strategy seeking to “make America great again.”

Recognizing the vital contributions made by the Voluntary Sector to America’s current and future “greatness” of our national quality of life, the new Administration is urged to consider a national initiative to better understand and define the role of the Voluntary Sector in America’s “greatness” and to identify what is needed to ensure the Voluntary Sector adds the capacities needed to sustain and improve America’s national Quality of Life.

The paper suggests the establishment of a National Commission on Voluntary Sector Capacity and Sustainability.

Answers would be sought by the nonpartisan, blue-ribbon Commission to three broad questions, including:

  • What is the current state of the “Quality of Life” sector?
  • What will the Voluntary Sector be expected to provide in the way of human services in coming years if it is to meet the growing needs, and to ensure continued improvement in national Quality of Life?
  • What will be required in the way of additional or expanded capacities for the Independent Sector to not only sustain overall quality human services delivery in the face of changing and challenging operating environments, but to improve overall excellence, organizational performance, and quality results?

America’s economy is broadly organized into three “sectors,” including:

  • The Public (government) Sector: those portions of America’s economic system that are controlled by national, state or provincial, and local governments;
  • The Private Sector: businesses earning profits for owners; and,
  • The Voluntary Sector (also called “Third Sector,” “Independent Sector”: charitable, philanthropic, and nonprofit organizations whose purposes are to benefit and enrich society.

The Trump Administration’s emerging plans for the Public and Private Sectors reflect a vital strategic focus on results and outcomes that will “make America Great Again.”

To date, little is known or has been communicated regarding the role of the Voluntary Sector in making America great again.

However, America’s more than one million charitable/philanthropic organizations employ over 10 million professionals providing a myriad of human services that collectively provide the majority of America’s quality of life.

The Voluntary Sector is essential to any national strategy that seeks to make America great again.

America’s overall quality of life depends on the collective human services provided by nearly one million charitable-philanthropic-nonprofit organizations.

The charitable-philanthropic/nonprofit sector is the most rapidly growing and changing economic and organizational domain in the world — a universe of voluntary associations and organizations representing civil society, philanthropy, and voluntary action.  The Voluntary Sector has more than doubled since publication in 1980 of the first handbook recognizing the new professional field of “nonprofit organization management” (Connors, 1980).  It has become a universe of voluntary associations and organizations representing civil society, philanthropy, and voluntary action.

America’s future quality of life will depend in large part on the ability of its more than one million charitable-philanthropic-nonprofit organizations to collectively provide a myriad of human services ranging from arts and education, to health, advocacy and social services.  Sustaining our national quality of life in the face of expanding needs and dwindling resources will require significant improvements by our voluntary organizations in mission fulfillment, performance, productivity, and human services delivery. These voluntary organizations must deliver a myriad of human services in the face of ever-changing operating environments, compounded by the ever-growing demands for social human services needed to sustain our nation’s overall quality of life, and further complicated by growing calls for improved Effectiveness, Efficiency, Transparency and Accountability.

Achieving improvements in overall effectiveness and efficiency resulting in substantially improved performance, results and outcomes will be among the most pressing challenges facing C-P/NP’s as transformational organizations.

Unanswered Questions

Regardless of one’s political views, all sides appreciate the significant contributions made to America’s quality of life by its voluntary action organizations–and the need to develop policies and guidelines that enhance cooperation, improve performance and results, and add capacities needed to ensure America’s future quality of life, without undermining the core values that make America’s nonprofits so important to its overall quality of life.

Improving performance and capacity while strengthening Voluntary Sector core values requires answers to the following broad questions, including:

  • What is the state of the “Quality of Life” Voluntary Sector?
  • What will the Voluntary Sector be expected to provide in the way of human services in coming years if it is to meet the growing needs, and to ensure continued improvement in national Quality of Life?
  • What will be required in the way of additional or expanded capacities for the Independent Sector to not only sustain overall quality human services delivery in the face of changing and challenging operating environments, but to improve overall excellence, organizational performance, and quality results?
Results and Outcomes

During an approximately one year charter for the National Commission on Voluntary Sector Capacity and Sustainability, the following results and outcomes would be sought, including:

Gain Better Understandings regarding the:
  • Overall contributions by the voluntary sector to national quality of life.
  • Dynamic operating environments in which most voluntary organizations seek to survive and to fulfill their public purposes and missions.
  • Nature and depths of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats facing voluntary organizations.
  • Current relationships and/or partnerships between government and voluntary sector organizations.
Provide fact-based knowledge needed to:
  • Ensure the ability of the voluntary sector to sustain current levels of human services delivery;
  • Understand the scope and depth of challenges to needed capacity by sector organizations;
  • Put into place the educational and professional development resources and opportunities needed to ensure improved organizational performance as measured by effectiveness, efficiency, and transformational organizational environments;
  • Establish a government-voluntary sector relationship that represents an effective balance between policies that protect public purposes and missions, and that support the traditional charitable ethos that characterizes and inspires voluntary constituencies.
Overall Milestones:

Broad milestones for the Commission would include:

  • Creation of a national survey designed to provide a robust data base from which to develop answers to the basic research questions.
  • Analysis of the survey to identify conditions, needs, trends, and understandings contributing to sound policy considerations.
  • Hearings to provide the forum for public participation and input to the process.
  • Compilation of the Commission’s Findings and Recommendations, followed by publication.

Nonprofit Management Career Field

Since the Filer Commission

In 1983, Independent Sector sponsored “Since the Filer Commission,” a research forum conducted in New York, ten years after the Commission on Private Philanthropy and Public Needs had concluded its two-year study into private philanthropic initiatives.  The Filer Commission had published its report, Giving in America: Toward a Stronger Voluntary Sector, in 1975.

Connors_IS_1983_Since the Filer Commission Cover_Page_01Sector leaders (including Kathleen D. McCarthy, Pablo Eisenberg, Russy Sumariwalla, Elizabeth T. Boris, Lester Salamon, Jon Van Til, Landrum R. Bolling, and Tracy D. Connors) were asked their opinions regarding: the accuracy of the original commission’s report: about research that had been expanded or continued since the commission had reported 10 years earlier: identification of new issues, new research, or lingering questions still unanswered; and, where did the sector go from that point.

Connors had published the first Nonprofit Organization Handbook in 1980.  The Nonprofit Organization Handbook established for the first time that regardless of the specific public service provided, not-for-profit organizations shared seven areas of management—from fund raising to volunteer administration.

The first and second editions of the Nonprofit Management Handbook compiled the fundamental management information needed by NPO leaders in one volume for the first time.

Nonprofit Organization Handbook, 1980
Nonprofit Organization Handbook, 1980

The NPOH pointed out for the first time that while not-for-profit organizations may differ greatly in the type and variety of the public services they provide—e.g. culture versus social services—nevertheless, they generally share seven important areas of management and operations.

As Connors pointed out in his IS presentation and published perspectives, nonprofit organizations, regardless of the type of public service they provide, shared basic management commonalities, e.g., leadership, management and control; human resources management; revenue and support generation; financial management; public relations, marketing and communication; organizational and corporate principles; and, legal and regulatory impacts.  While nonprofits exhibit major differences in terms of their public services, in management areas they share much more than they differ.

What was emerging he termed a “horizontal view” of management and the nonprofit sector based on a concurrence that nonprofits share at least these seven areas of management and that “mastery of at least these areas is critical for the success of both the professional and NPO manager, and the organization which he or she leads.”

The Nonprofit Manager

A new category of management professional had emerged, he pointed out – the “nonprofit manager” – a professional, paid or volunteer, who has mastered the management basics of voluntary action organizations. At long last the nonprofit sector had the ability “to generate a curriculum designed to train the nonprofit executive – undergraduate and graduate … Enabling us to provide specific professional training in NPO management so badly needed by our career managers.”

At long last the nonprofit sector had the ability “to generate a curriculum designed to train the nonprofit executive – undergraduate and graduate … Enabling us to provide specific professional training in NPO management so badly needed by our career managers.”

The early 1980’s introduced the first comprehensive handbooks for charitable-philanthropic organization management, and established the basic horizontal management model which exists to this day around which management education in this field is organized.  A new management professional had evolved to lead C-POs regardless of their public service: the nonprofit executive.



Myths of Aging

Granny and the Geezer:

How myths, stereotypes and prejudice fuel ageism–the Golden Years through a glass darkly.

The Golden years are here at last.
I cannot see, I cannot pee.
I cannot chew, I cannot screw.
My memory shrinks, my hearing stinks.
No sense of smell, I look like hell.
The Golden years have come at last.
The Golden years can kiss my ass.
(Principato, 2009)

A “mythos” to the ancient Greeks, was “speech” or “discourse,” but over time the word evolved into meaning “fable” or “legend.”  As a story of vague or forgotten origin, often religious or supernatural in nature, a myth is often used to “explain or rationalize one or more aspects of the world or a society” (Doyle, 1997).  Typically, myths are actually believed to be true or basically so by those people or societies that used or originated them.

By attempting to explain or rationalize some aspect of human existence or institutions, myths served purposes similar to science, religion and history.  To understand a people, a culture, one must attempt to know and understand the myths of that culture.  By acquiring that understanding, we not only better understand the present, but we can use that understanding to move in the direction of a better future.

When a myth is repeated and “passed along” throughout the various communication channels used by a society, e.g. news media, internet, blogs, periodicals, it is well on its way to becoming a stereotype–a commonly held, often standardized and simplified concept that has been invested–or charged–with special meaning (Merriam-Webster, 2009).  A stereotype is often used in a prejudicial way, particularly when it involves beliefs directed at a person or category of people involving such characteristics as gender, disability, sexual orientation or age.

While a prejudice can be positive or negative, most age-related prejudices are negative and reflect a number of emotions and attitudes, including: fear, antipathy, envy, jealousy and transferred anger by younger members of society. Although a stereotype could be true and objective, when social scientists use the term, they are generally referring to connotations that are both negative and inaccurate. (Haslam, 2004).   So, as Tornstam points out “when we find that almost 90 percent of Swedes falsely believe that one in two retirement pensioners suffer from loneliness, we can safely call this belief or image a stereotype.” (Tornstam, 2007, p. 37)

Aging and the aged have long been the subjects of–and many might say, targets of–myth-makers or myth-conveyers in many societies.  A recent Google search on the topic “myth” + “aging,” almost instantly generated 2,250,000 “hits.”  If a myth serves to explain or rationalize attitudes and aspects of a society, then a review of common myths about aging offers a sad commentary on our contemporary society.  Of greater concern is the extent to which misleading myths help perpetuate fallacious stereotypes that are used to make, shape, or alter, public policies and benefits affecting “senior citizens”–fostering ageism.

More than half the people who ever lived to be 65 are alive today, according to Jeanne Sather, who writes on Healthline that myths on aging should themselves be retired.  “That alone suggests that myths about aging based on past generations may not hold true for this one.” (Sather, 2008)  Wishing a myth away is not supported by research.

“Ageism can be seen…in making scapegoats of older men and women and in stereotyping them. It is seen in the deferral or denial of the realities of aging. Our language is replete with negative references, such as “dirty old man” and “greedy geezer,” that would never be acceptable if applied to any other group…Graphic pictorial images that denigrate old age often appear in our media.” (Bernstein et al., 2006)

When we contrast common myths held by our society about aging with scientific fact, we can understand how Drs. John Rowe and Robert Kahn can reach the conclusion “that our society is in persistent denial of some important truths about aging. Our perceptions about the elderly fail to keep pace with the dramatic changes in their actual status. We view the aged as sick, demented, frail, weak, disabled, powerless, sexless, passive, alone, unhappy, and unable to learn—in short, a rapidly growing mass of irreversibly ill, irretrievable older Americans. To sum up, the elderly are depicted as a figurative ball and chain holding back an otherwise spry collective society.”  (Rowe & Kahn, 2009).  This summary, by the authors, reflected over ten years of research by the MacArthur Foundation Study of Aging in America.

“WHERE is my SUNDAY  paper?!” The little old lady calling the newspaper office, loudly demanded to know where her Sunday edition was. “Madam”, said the newspaper  employee, “today is Saturday. The Sunday paper is not delivered until tomorrow, on SUNDAY“. There  was quite a long pause on the other end of the phone, followed by a ray of recognition as the little old lady was heard to mutter, “Well, shit… that’s why no one was at church today.” (Principato, 2009)

The MacArthur Foundation study identified many age-related myths in our society, including six that were “frequently heard,” including:

myth #1: To be old is to be sick.
myth #2: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
myth #3: The horse is out of the barn.
myth #4: The secret to successful aging is to choose your parents wisely.
myth #5: The lights may be on, but the voltage is low.
myth #6: The elderly don’t pull their own weight.  (Rowe & Kahn, 2009)

“When people think of growing older, they often have images of deprivation, poverty, poor health, loneliness and loss of mental capacity,” Dr. DeLee Lantz points out in the introduction to a National Institute of Aging of the National Institutes of Health questionnaire (Lantz, 2009).  Are views held by many likely to be accurate?  How true are stereotypes?  Are many views about aging and the aged actually myths that are accepted because of repetition?

An objective comparison of frequently held myths about aging reveals a significant gap between the myth and scientific fact.  While most of these myths cannot be sustained when compared with scientific findings, the myths persist.

A better understanding of myths related to aging and the degree of their truthfulness is gained by organizing them into three overall categories, including those related to: attention, memory and perception.  It should be remembered that these selections represent a very small fraction of age-related myths and stereotypes.







Attention-related “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”


Limited data are available on attentional deficits related to aging.  Some cognitive slowing may occur, perhaps due to neural connection loss or loss of information during processing (Cavanaugh & Blanchard-Fields, 2006) However, people at any age can acquire new skills and information.


“When you age, you lose your memory.” “Think aging is all about losing your memory and becoming hard of hearing? Think again. Many people sail through the aging process without walkers or pacemakers. In fact, researchers now believe it’s those age-related diseases—diabetes, heart disease, cancer, stroke, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s—that leave us frail or disabled, rather than the normal aging of our bodies.” (Kotz, February 20, 2009)


Older people have more mental problems, e.g. learning, remembering or concentrating. Nearly five percent of the general population have problems with learning, remembering or concentrating.  Of those from 65-74 (10.8%), 75-84 (6.3%), and 85 and older (27.7%) have such problems or issues (Gist & Hetzel, 2004, p. 11).  Only the very elderly have significantly greater issues with learning, remembering or concentrating than the general public.


Older people are more subject to variations in heat or cold.

Extremes of heat or cold are more threatening for older people.

True, generally, the body’s thermostat is less efficient as we get older.






  Most older people are depressed.


Fact, most older people, according to the National Institute on Aging, are not depressed.  When it does occur, it can be treated.
  Most older people are deaf or having trouble with their vision. Over one-third of those over 85 have sensory disabilities, including blindness, deafness or hearing impairment, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.  (Gist & Hetzel, 2004, p. 11).  However, only 8.7 percent of those 65-74 and 16.9 percent of those 75 to 84 have such disabilities.  The “myth” has broader factual support for the very elderly.


The negative effects of ageism on the elderly reach much further than depression, they are thought to reduce life span, as well.  For example, in its impressive “Ageism in America” report, the International Longevity Center notes that “older people with positive perceptions of aging lived an average of 7.5 years longer than did those with negative images of growing older.” (Bernstein et al., 2006, p. 61).

More significant overall is the impact on public policy of myth and stereotypes about the elderly.  Too often it is the myths, not the facts, that become the foundation for public policy formulation, a process that may well be currently underway in Washington with the Medicare system being revised in ways that can only result in decreased resources and access for millions of American seniors.

Stereotypes persist and resist efforts to combat them with facts, as Tornstam reports in a Swedish study conducted over 23 years.  “Little seems to have changed for the better,” he concluded.  (Tornstam, 2007, p. 1)  However, negative characterizations can be “reversed to ‘positive’ stereotypes at the same time as negative stereotypes of psychological conditions remain the same.” (p. 23)  He outlines a new stereotype in Sweden of wealthy, fit and spoiled “pensioners,” who are being characterized as being greedy for staying in their own homes too long; thus, denying the scarce (in Sweden) private housing to younger people.

Sociologists, gerontologists and other enlightened leaders in society are attempting a more pro-active strategy of introducing new metaphors.

Often, field of interest pertaining to the aged and aging can be in conflict.  Even while public policy makers are busy creating legislation that has the effect of rationing care for America’s eldery, the scientific community is generally seen as promoting the well being of our aging populations.  One positive step is to address the demeaning myth and misleading stereotype with new metaphors.  Scientists and other enlightened professionals are taking a leading role in creating and introducing new metaphors intended to “cast a motivating optimistic aura about aging.”  (Birren, 2002).  Terms like “successful aging,” “productive aging,” and “vital aging” “reflect a rising interest on the part of the research community to attract public interest to areas of research thought to be useful in an aging population.” (Birren, 2002)


Associated Press. (2004, September 7). Ageism in America [As boomers age, bias against the elderly becomes hot topic] (Health/Aging). Retrieved from MSNBC:

Bernstein, C., Dennis, E. E., Grossman, L. K., Levy, B. R., McCann, L. A., Rix, S. et al. (Authors). (2006). Ageism in america, Anti-Ageism taskforce (International Longevity Center, p. 121).

Birren, J. (2002). Gerontology. In Encyclopedia of public health (Gerontology, the study of aging). Retrieved from

Cavanaugh, J. C., & Blanchard-Fields, F. (2006). Adult development and aging, fifth edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Thomson Learning.

Doyle, B. (1997, April 17). Mythology. Retrieved from Encyclopedia Mythica™:

Gist, Yvonne J.; Hetzel, Lisa I. (U S. Census Bureau). (2004). We the people: Aging in the united states (P. 11) (This report provides a portrait of the social and economic characteristics of the population aged 65 and over in the united states at the national level.1 it is part of the census 2000  special reports series that presents several demographic, social, and economic  characteristics collected from census 2000.). Retrieved from

Haslam, A. A. (2004). Stereotypes. In A. Kuper & J. Kuper (Eds.), The social science encyclopeadia (3rd ed.). New York: Routledge.

Kotz, D. (February 20, 2009). 5 Common Myths About Aging: If you age well, you shouldn’t have to worry about becoming frail and senile [Best Health: Boomer Health]. Retrieved from

Lantz, D. (2009, December 1). Common myths of aging: What’s your aging iQ? [Questionairre to help you test your knowledge of the facts about aging.]. Retrieved from Integrated Psychology Associates:

Merriam-Webster. (2009). Definition of myth from the merriam-Webster online dictionary [Definition of myth from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary with audio pronunciations, thesaurus, Word of the Day, and word games.]. Retrieved from Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary:

Merriam-Webster. (2009). Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary [Definition of stereotype from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary with audio pronunciations, thesaurus, Word of the Day, and word games.]. Retrieved from Marriam-Webster:

Principato, M. (2009, December 4). Over the hill, getting old, senior citizen humor – old age jokes cartoons and funny photos. Retrieved from

Rowe, J. W., & Kahn, R. L. (2009). Breaking down the myths of aging : Successful aging [The topic of aging is durably encapsulated in a layer of myths in our society. And, like most myths, the ones about aging include a confusing blend of truth and fancy. We have compressed six of the most familiar of the aging myths into single-sentence”]. Retrieved  from eNotalone: You are not alone. Articles and forums about relationships and personal growth:

Sather, J. (2008, January 28). Retire these 10 myths of aging. Retrieved from Healthline (licensed from StayWell):

Tornstam, L. (2007). Stereotypes of old people persist : A Swedish “Facts on aging quiz” in a 23-year comparative perspective. International Journal of Ageing and Later Life (Linköping University Electronic Press), 2(1), 33-59. Retrieved from


Views from a strategic mirror


The NPO Strategic Mirror is a convenient tool for senior leaders of nonprofit organization to better understand how — or whether — the organization’s strategic planning and deployment are directly linked to outcomes and results that demonstrate improved mission and public purpose accomplishment.

This strategic directions profiling and self-assessment resource is based on the self-renewing management model (Connors, 1997, 2001, 2014), and was most recently used by Norwich University as a tool  to review and assess strategic planning by Vermont charitable-philanthopic-nonprofit organizations.

The answers sought on the questionnaire are related to and focused on those management actions, activities, and competencies that senior NPO leaders have identified as contributing to their successes and those of their organizations.

The NPO Strategic Mirror is a strategic directions profiling and self-assessment tool created by Dr. Tracy Connors based on the self-renewing management model (Connors, 1997/2001) and rankings provided by senior NPO practitioners during the Charitable-Philanthropic Organization Self-Renewing Management Model (C-POSRM) Study (Connors, 2014).

About the Strategic Mirror assessment

The actual assessment can be completed in a few minutes by those who are familiar with the organization’s strategic plan and/or related materials. The resulting data can become the focus for analysis, and serve as a form of agenda for any meetings focused on the subject.

The Strategic Mirror assessment and review process helped participating organizations to better understand their organization’s long-range vision, goals and objectives and how these are aligned with the operating environment.

The data collected and developed during the assessments used a combination of both qualitative and quantitative methodologies. It is designed to provide macro level insights into the strategic planning process and documentation, and to do so in the three overarching management domains that represent the organization’ operating environment.

The reviewer – external or internal to the organization – can make a determination about the presence of a management function or action, and the extent to which it seems to be effectively used within the planning process to improve effectiveness or efficiency. The reviewer then assigns their determination to a broad Likkert scale range to generate quantitative data that is then available for other useful purposes, e.g., basic statistical understandings.

The data collected can help provide a broad measure of understanding about the use of these management actions and activities within the organization’s planning processes, how that use compares with other nonprofits, and how the organization’s use of these potential tools within its strategic planning process may change over time.

Need to improve NPO capacities directly linked to improved mission fulfillment

The future of America’s quality of life, in many important ways, depends on the quality and quantity of human services provided by its more than 1 million charitable-philanthropic-nonprofit organizations. America’s C-P NPO’s are under continuing and growing pressure to improve their Effectiveness, Efficiency, Accountability, and Transparency (E/EAT). These pressures and proddings are increasing, a process some have called the “tides of reform.”

C-NPO’s must improve and increase their organizational capacities in ways that are directly linked to outcomes and results that demonstrate improved mission and public purpose accomplishment.

Strategic planning is one of the most critical competencies self-sustaining C-NPO’s attain and practice.  However, the results and outcomes achieved as a result of an organization’s strategic planning and deployment will depend on the extent to which the plans reflect and incorporate those management actions, activities, and results that research has identified as among the strongest contributors to organizational performance improvement and mission fulfillment.

Strategic Mirror aligns strategic planning with management actions contributing to performance improvement

“Views from a Strategic Mirror” is a research-based charitable-philanthropic organization self-assessment tool designed to help leaders, managers, and practitioners identify the extent to which strategic planning and related future-focused management processes reflect the incorporation of specific management actions and outcomes that are major contributors to overall organizational performance improvement in the three overarching management domains – Effectiveness, Efficiency, and Transformational Organization.

VSM helps C-NPO leaders conveniently and quickly review and compare their organization’s strategic plan and related documents.  The Q&A process provides a convenient reminder of the management actions and/or outcomes that have been strongly correlated to overall organizational performance and success by research and practice. The VSM provides the “mirror” that helps reflect the extent to which the planning process has included and focused on those management/leadership actions and outcomes that are closely associated with organizational performance improvement, and the extent to which the organization has incorporated those contributors to excellence and mission fulfillment into its plans and practices, and used them to define strategic results and outcomes.

Next: Reflections Before the Mirror

Suggested citation:

Connors, T. D. (2016, October 17). Views from a strategic mirror [A strategic directions profiling and self-assessment tool for charitable-philanthropic-nonprofit organizations created based on the self-renewing management model.]. In NPO crossroads: management domains and outcomes. Retrieved from BelleAire Press, LLC:

© Copyright 2016 T.D. Connors


Management degree

graduate-degree-imageA Graduate Certificate or Degree in Management…or Not

Should a graduate management degree or certificate be included in my plans to advance my career as a senior manager of a charitable-philanthropic-nonprofit organization?

This is a big question – and one with an expensive price tag. What factors should I consider?

The news media tell us that grad school brings benefits – those having earned advanced degrees tend to earn bigger paychecks and promotions than those who only have an undergraduate degree. For example, if I have a Master’s degree, on average I earn $200 more a week than someone with a bachelor’s degree (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics), or about 15% higher overall income. This is a reflection of improved skill sets, job-related competencies, knowledge base, marketability, and earning potential based on the significantly improved value of the holder to the organization.

Over a lifetime, according to the US Census Bureau, a person with a Master’s degree may earn $400,000 more than one with only a bachelor’s degree.

However, while I am more likely to find a new job or a promotion, investments are required. For example, according to, the average cost of a Master’s degree is between $30,000 and $120,000.  [Note: the cost of an MPA Degree at Norwich University is about $30,000.  Of course, educational loan assistance is usually available.  One of the four Graduate Certificates in Nonprofit Organization Management is far less.]

Will a graduate degree help me get hired?

Attitudes about Master’s degrees have changed significantly since the 1970s when they were often considered simply a consolation prize for students not able to complete their doctoral degrees. Since then, the Master’s degree has evolved into an important professional credential highly valued by most employers.

According to Burning Glass Technologies, graduate degrees are required or preferred in more than 20% of the positions available in the US economy. Increasingly, the professional world values the growing number of managerial positions that require digital skills versus the ones that do not.

Demand for the Master’s Degree is up

The Education Advisory Board in their 2014 custom research brief, Development of Online Master’s Degree in Higher Education Programs, found that nationally, “demand for graduates with skills gained from a master’s degree in higher education increased 54 percent nationally from January 2010 to June 2013. This increase is noteworthy.  Additionally, the Board found that Metropolitan areas such as Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, MA and Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, CD-VA-MD-WV, reflected some of the highest demand for graduates with a master’s degree in higher education.

Connecting the dots strongly suggests that earning a graduate management degree prepares and positions the human services professional to stay competitive in the job market.

A recent national survey and study determined that most NPO senior executives have either a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

npo-exec-demographics-12oct2016_q6_600pxsHowever, few of the hundreds of respondents, all of whom were self-selected/reported as C-PO executives, held degrees in nonprofit organization management or even related fields.  Over 70% reported degrees from other fields. The next largest source was from the field of social/community services. This may reflect a pattern of internal promotion for social services agencies whose executives perhaps started as hands-on providers of client services.

npo-exec-demographics-12oct2016_534pxsLess than 5% reported earning degrees in either nonprofit organization management or public administration, respectively. The aggregated totals for all degrees focused on some aspect of management (e.g., business administration, human resource management, NPO management) totaled 18.2%. In short, fewer than one in five reported having any college level educational background in managing any type of organization; and, only approximately 1 in 20 had a degree in NPO management.

Professional credentials. The majority of the respondents (60.4%) had not earned professional credentials beyond their college Bachelor’s Degree programs. Those reporting credentials in the “other” category included holders of non-degree certificates in nonprofit management, certificates from various sources in other categories of management, certifications as facilitator/trainer, or other graduate degree programs.

When asked their preferences regarding additional professional resources, the great majority of the respondents (79%) chose charitable-nonprofit management credentialing programs. The strong response for credentialing suggests that managers and leaders of nonprofit organizations understand and validated the value of the NPM Graduate Certificate and graduate degree program.

The convergence of demands for more effectiveness and efficiency from nonprofit organizations, preferences for Master’s degree holders over those with lesser degrees, and the scarcity of senior managers of nonprofit organizations having any formal management education, argue strongly in favor of including the acquisition of a graduate management certificate and graduate degree in management as important professional development goals and objectives.

In short, Yes, you should consider a graduate degree or certification program.  Just make sure it will truly develop competencies you can use to help improve the organization’s results and outcomes.

© Copyright 2016 T. D. Connors

What’s In A Name: the future

Many of the words we use everyday have been used for hundreds, even thousands, of years by countless generations of our ancestors, most of whom spoke a language derived and descended from Indo-European – the prototype of the majority of the world’s languages spoken today.  Researchers at Reading University concluded that such words as “I”, “we”, “two” and “three” are words that have been used for tens of thousands of years, and are among the most ancient of words now in common use (BBC News, 2009).  Researchers determined the more often we use a word, the more slowly it changes over time.  Therefore, our most commonly used words tend to be our oldest words.  When we use a word with great frequency, it clearly has great value to us and communicates important information.

These findings would certainly apply to the word we use to identify, describe, or distinguish one thing from another.  When we designate something in a way that expressively classifies it according to some combination of distinguishing characteristics, we give it a “name.”  Since the term “nomen” appears in Indo-European and means “name,” we get a sense for the importance of the word “name,” and the role it plays in our language (Morris, 1981, p. 871).  A “name” can be a name, or it might be a designation, denomination, title, appellation, nickname, sobriquet, cognomen, or moniker.  What few can bear is the inexpressible, indescribable horror of being “nameless.”

What’s in a name?

When any nonprofit organization is established, its founders give serious attention to its name.  Typically, the name provides a great deal of information about its mission and purpose.  Nonprofits work hard to earn public recognition and respect for the good works performed by their members, staff, and volunteers – all of which contributes to its name recognition, which in turn is a significant factor in its ability to sustain public support, solicit donations, and attract members and volunteers.

There are times in the lifecycle of a nonprofit organization when its leadership is faced with the need to consider changing its name – the subject of this posting focusing on major change efforts.

Volunteer Jacksonville to HandsOn Jacksonville: a mini-study

Volunteer Jacksonville, Inc.,  was incorporated as a nonprofit corporation in the state of Florida in 1973 (Corrick, Hannan & Fanning, 1973), and granted exempt status as a 501(c)(3) public charity by the IRS in 1976.  The organization’s original mission was that of serving as a clearinghouse for volunteers – a place where individuals could find opportunities through which they could serve their community, and where nonprofit organizations could obtain assistance and retaining volunteers for their programs.

By the 1980s, Volunteer Jacksonville, Inc. had grown into a management resource and support center for nonprofit organizations, as well as fulfilling the responsibilities as a volunteer center.  However, what we would now term as “mission creep” led to a flurry of organizational focus, coupled with significant revenue decreases from the organization’s primary funding source.  For many years there was a persistent sentiment, eventually substantiated by an externally prepared marketing study, to change the name.  By then, “Volunteer Jacksonville” did not accurately describe what the organization provided in the way of public services (Smith, 2006-2010).

In 1998, following extensive planning and development, the organizational model was changed and Volunteer Jacksonville refocused its mission and vision on a single primary customer, “the person whose life is changed because of work that is done–the volunteer” (HandsOn Jacksonville, 2010).  Since then, the organization has also made significant changes in its business model, integrating a direct project management model with the ongoing indirect clearinghouse/brokerage model, that enable it to increasingly focus on: the volunteer; preparing volunteer leaders and managers; conducting volunteer projects; and on what it terms “impact imperatives” in such areas as education, economy, environment, and emergency preparedness.  Impact imperatives projects have also enabled the organization to help restore schools as centers of the community, alleviate poverty, preserve the environment, and prepare the greater Jacksonville community for potential disasters.

In 2006, in a significant move that symbolized the organization’s refocused and revised vision, Volunteer Jacksonville, Inc. changed its name to HandsOn Jacksonville, Inc. – “to reflect our conviction to change the world by inspiring, equipping and mobilizing the people of our community to take action” (HandsOn Jacksonville, 2008).  Explained in the context outlined by Carlson and O’Neal-McElrath (2008), the process followed by the revitalized HandsOn Jacksonville, can be seen as both a structural and an engagement strategy.

The organization clearly re-examined its mission, realigned the organization more in line with the revised and refined mission, then adopted a revised mission, one better suited to the organization’s need to respond to rapidly changing conditions – and opportunities.  The change also enabled them to refocus the organization’s culture and to reengage all of their stakeholders in supporting the improve mission, services, and message.  Further, the name change provided an opportunity and a catalyst to engage with other nonprofits both local and national to establish supportive, collaborative, and cooperative initiatives improving funding support and organizational effectiveness.

For some nonprofits, including some aspects of the HoJ initiative, the process of changing the name is part of an overall organizational rebranding effort, that can include a new strategy, name, logo, color scheme, and website design (Hrywna, 2009).  A brand is not simply the organization’s name or logotype.  Rather, the brand represents, collectively, how that organization’s clients, customers, stakeholders, volunteers, staff, and the general public view the organization, i.e., its overall reputation and standing (, 2011).


Durham (2010) applies the term “Brandraising,” as the name for the process of establishing a coherent, cohesive organizational identity, coupled with a comprehensive communications plan and system that supports these goals, thus making it easier to articulate the organization’s mission and purpose effectively and consistently.  A nonprofit organization’s strongest asset is its brand, and branding includes all of the processes involved in establishing a clear, consistent message about the organization – the goal being to create such a strong association between the organization’s logotype or name that when the public sees or hears them they will think of the organization’s mission and programs in terms defined by the organization (Nissim, 2004).

The objective when branding products, Strand (2010) says, is to establish an association between the product position and the consumer’s self image.  In the case of a nonprofit organization, the difference lies in the fact that the association is developed between the values of that organization and the corresponding values of that organization’s supporters.  For example: “We connect and engage people in service that addresses serious social issues… We make people aware of the issues that face our community, equipping them with hope and tools that empower them to create change” (HandsOn Jacksonville, 2009, p. 2)

What’s a name worth?

The nonprofit’s name and brand play an important role in the organization’s ability to generate future revenue and resources.  What the organization stands for should be uncompromising and absolutely clear to the public.  As reported in the Cone Nonprofit Power Brand 100, the top nonprofit brand in the United States is the YMCA, whose brand is worth $6.393.6 million.  Other top nonprofit brands in the United States include: the Salvation Army, United Way of America, American Red Cross, Goodwill Industries International, and Catholic Charities USA (CNBC, 2009).

References: (2011). Whether Marketing a Corporate Brand or a Branded Product or Service, Success. Retrieved January 25, 2011, from and DNA Designed Communications Ltd.:

BBC News. (2009, February 26). ‘Oldest English words’ identified [Some of the oldest words in the English and other Indo-European languages have been identified, scientists believe.]. In Science & environment. Retrieved April 20, 2011, from

Carlson, M., & O’Neal-McElrath, T. (2008). Winning grants: Step by step. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass/Wiley.

CNBC. (2009, June 26). New report values America’s 100 leading nonprofit brands [As the nation copes with the economic crisis, the value of nonprofit brands are revealed for the first time”]. Retrieved January 25, 2011, from Intangible Business Brand Valuation:

Corrick, G. W., Hannan, P. I., & Fanning, D. S. (1973). Articles of incorporation [Volunteer Jacksonville, Inc.].

Durham, S. (2010). Brandraising. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass/Wiley.

HandsOn Jacksonville, I. (2008). VIRE Grant Application [Volunteer impact, retention and expansion (VIRA) grant].

HandsOn Jacksonville, I. (Author). (2009). HandsOn Jacksonville 2009 Report to the Community (J. A. M. Smith, Ed.).

HandsOn Network. (2010). Volunteer impact, retention and expansion grants: Grant application (Instructions and guidance). Retrieved from

Morris, W. (1981). The American heritage dictionary of the English language. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Nissim, B. (2004, October 1). Nonprofit branding: Unveiling the essentials. Retrieved January 25, 2011, from GuideStar:

Smith, J. A. M. (2006-2010). HandsOn Jacksonville, Strategic Management Plan (Revised). Jacksonville, Florida.

Strand, R. (2010, November 6). Smashable nonprofit brands. In Branding. Retrieved January 25, 2011, from Ezine@articles:

Transformational Leaders or Paragon Leaders?

Is the “paragon leader” construct what we will need in order to grow voluntary sector capacity and improved organizational performance to the levels it will take to sustain our nation’s quality of life as the future becomes the present?

Transformational leadership is a construct proposed nearly 40 years ago that identified characteristics associated with successful leaders. The transformational leader construct has remained a mainstream issue and a highly popular subject for nearly 4 decades. The original construct has evolved into at least eight major categories of leadership theories, with the “great man” theory being the most frequently used.

While most leadership theories focus on personal leadership dimensions and attributes, far fewer directly consider the organizational environment in which the change is expected to occur, and none currently address factors relating to the purpose of leadership – the change that drives the activity and the behavior. Some of the theories overlap or are parallel.

Leading involves changing, and that always has consequences, some or even many of which are not always positive unless the change process is prudently undertaken after due diligence.

In trying to find the most effective theory and model for change leadership adequate for demanding times, laudatory traits and characteristics have been steadily added. The idealized construct now represents a paragon of exemplary behavior based on fully develop sets of impeccable core values that represent the most humanistic principles ever gathered. As the list of “saintly” attributes that are supposedly required by “real leaders” has grown, it has become a more daunting for mere mortals to achieve and practice but now appear to be saintly qualities successful leaders are said to have or be needed for success.

But is this “paragon leader code of conduct” what we will need in order to grow the capacity and improve organizational performance to the levels it will take to sustain our nation’s quality of life as a future becomes the present?

Next: Transforming Leadership, Advancing to higher levels of motivation

Suggested citation:

Connors, T. D. (2015, July 31). Transformational leaders or paragon leaders? In Transformational organizations: NPO crossroads. Retrieved from BelleAire Press, LLC:

© Copyright 2015 BelleAire Press, LLC

The Way Ahead for Charities: E/EAT-ing Towards Excellence

Recent discussions in national media, including the WSJ, have highlighted the undeniable need by our charitable organizations to significantly improve their effectiveness, efficiency, accountability and transparency (E/EAT). Some have framed the national dialogue for improved E/EAT as a choice or trade-off by charities between embracing societal values emphasizing more economical allocation and expenditure of public funds and charitable donations, versus compromising (by reduced or inferior human services delivery) more traditional charitable values (ethos) that place a higher value on public and human services missions. Choosing “more business-like” or “commercialism” over “charity,” is seen as dangerous by some sector leaders, threatening humanistic, traditional charitable core values.

Such polarity framing represents a false dilemma.

First, “business-like” as a metaphor for effectiveness and efficiency is contradicted daily in WSJ headlines. Second, the range of promising new business model options available for nonprofits is steadily growing. In fact, many nonprofits are developing and using new (hybrid) business models, adapted (not adopted) from both for-profit and public enterprises, offering improved E/EAT without abandoning traditional charitable values. Further, such models provide the additional flexibility needed to deal with the complexities of today’s VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) environments.

Clearly, E/EAT pressures will continue as “society” asserts primacy for the “economy” core value. In any values conflict between society and organizations such as public charities allowed to operate within its physical or economic borders, society will ultimately prevail.

America’s charities can wait to be forced into various modes of compliance based on external pressures, e.g., regulations or stipulations placed on resources; or, opt for self-directed, values-driven, internal compliance, e.g., adapting and using new business models improving E/EAT, while retaining essential organizational ethos. Such models will also reinforce another traditional charitable core value: excellence, sustained superior performance directed at public service mission fulfillment. Nonprofits can resolve potential conflict, fulfill their societal social contracts, and retain their essential ethos, by adapting and using those business models and strategies from all sectors that foster their continuing pursuit of excellence.

National media coverage of new emerging NPO business models leading to excellence represents its own significant contribution to improving charitable E/EAT, and our national quality of life.

Resolving False Dilemma by Achieving Excellence

The Way Ahead: Resolving False Dilemma by Achieving Excellence

by Dr. Tracy D. Connors

Journalists, commentators, and even some researchers, tend to view national pressures on charities to improve Effectiveness, Efficiency, Accountability and Transparency (E/EAT), through the perspective of “them” versus “us.” Instead, a better understanding of this artificial polarity can be achieved by viewing the growing national mandates as “game changing,” prioritized strengthenings of several traditional core values within North American society. Simply stated, the polarity of views contrasts societal values for highly economical (cost-effective) allocation and expenditures of public funds and charitable donations, with charitable values placing higher value on public and human services missions. Overlooking a broader, values-based perspective, one incorporating the many commonalities between sectors, has led to a false dilemma perception for many charities of being forced to choose between societal values (“bang for the buck”) versus traditional charitable values (caring and doing good).

Hurwit & Associates (2011) pointed out that accountability and transparency are now expected by funding organizations and donors and that have what the authors term “savvier consumers.” Most public and private sector donors and revenue sources expect and demand more for their charitable dollar. Individual donors increasingly want more accountability, control, or even active participation in how their charitable dollars are put to use. Significantly, more funding agencies, e.g., foundations and corporations, are requiring detailed financial reports, and reports outlining program results and benefits.

We can expect to see more program evaluation, Carman (2007-2009) predicted, more performance measures, more outcomes and results assessments , and greater use of planning and evaluation approaches such as logic models. We can also expect to see more extensive external monitoring from government agencies, coupled with a greater focus on programs demonstrating results as defined by the funder. Consequently, many nonprofits will need to reevaluate the way they make operating and programming decisions, reflecting the influence of funding decisions made by donor and funder organizations that she suggests will tend to reward those organizations seen to be making better use of evaluation and performance information (continuous process improvement) in their efforts to improve human services delivery (Carman, 2007-2009).

Continued funding cuts, King (2010) suggests, put some nonprofit organizations in jeopardy of having to close down or merge with another. What King may overlook or fail to consider is the considerable contribution toward organizational sustainability and survival made by a balanced financial management strategy, one that adopts as a priority establishing – and sustaining – a robust, broad-based, and multifaceted, revenue generating program. Nonprofits that eschew the rigors of an ongoing and multifaceted resource development program may find their original missions compromised by pressures to adjust the organization’s focus (“mission creep”) to meet the demands or inducements of a grantor or funding organization. Further, should the funding source fail to deliver the needed revenue, the nonprofit may indeed be facing a highly problematic and uncertain future.

Nationwide, nearly 33,000 human services providers administered 200,000 government contracts and grants in 2009. Those funding sources are vital to human services needed by millions of Americans, and important to the nonprofits who provide those services based on those funds. A recent study by the Urban Institute – the National Study of Nonprofit-Government Contracting, State Profiles, illustrates the dangers for nonprofits of putting too many financial “eggs,” into the public funding basket. Key problems facing nonprofits were identified in this study, including: late payments, changes to contracts, complexity of application and reporting requirements, and insufficient payments. Whether large or small, well over half of all nonprofits experience problems with their publicly funded human services contracts and grants (Boris, de Leon, Roeger & Nikolova, 2010).

Clearly, E/EAT pressures are likely to continue over time as “society” continues to assert primacy for the “economy” core value. In any values conflict between society, and an organization such as a public charity allowed to operate within its physical or economic borders, society can be expected to ultimately prevail. There are fundamentally two courses of action open to America’s charities: wait to be forced into various modes of compliance based on external pressures, e.g., regulations guidelines or requirements; or, opt for self-directed, values-driven, internal compliance, i.e., identifying and prioritizing organizational humanistic values supporting E/EAT, while retaining essential organizational ethos. Fortunately, those charities opting for a pro-active, values-driven E/EAT strategy can also preserve their ethos, and add to their sustainability through improved financial and performance management.

Conclusions and Summary

Governance leaders of America’s charitable organizations face significant pressures to achieve greater effectiveness, efficiency, accountability, and transparency (E/EAT), much of it based on growing public perceptions and skepticism created by biased mass media coverage . Conflicting, confusing news and dialogue, typically polarized between calls for reform and innovation (controversy and conflict), versus alarmist threats to traditional charitable values, can best be understood as a values-driven debate characterized by Berger, Penna and Goldberg (2010) as the “battle for the soul of the nonprofit sector” (p. 1). Unbalanced, superficial news coverage of the nonprofit sector is also seen as cuing the public to support more regulation and law.

Growing pressures on nonprofits to be more “businesslike,” can be seen as pressures to strengthen several traditional national core values, e.g., economy. However, commercialism is seen as dangerous by such sector leaders as Pablo Eisenberg, threatening such traditional charitable core values. Others, such as Sanders (2008), suggest the dialogue should change from dialectic and oppositional (a false dichotomy), to embrace the benefits to charitable mission fulfillment and ethos offered by integrating both business models. New, hybrid business-nonprofit business models are steadily expanding the operational and resource generation options available to nonprofits, and do not necessarily require abandoning traditional charitable values.

Nonprofits that decide to pursue excellence can resolve potential conflict, fulfill their societal social contracts, and retain their essential ethos, by adapting and using those business models and strategies from both sectors that offer results achieving both economy and caring during the pursuit of sustained superior organizational performance. For most nonprofits, the way ahead should include adopting an individualized, values-focused strategy for excellence, one that also ensures sustained effectiveness, efficiency, public accountability, and operational transparency.


Berger, K., Penna, R. M., & Goldberg, S. H. (2010, May 25). The battle for the soul of the nonprofit sector. In Philadelphia Social Innovations Journal (Issue 3) [Http://]. (Regional on-line journal.). Philadelphia Social Innovations Journal.
Boris, E. T., De Leon, E., Roeger, K. L., & Nikolova, M. (2010, October). National study of nonprofit-government contracting [Http://]. On-line report). Urban Institute.
Carman, J. G. (2007-2009, March). Evaluation practice among community-based organizations. American Journal of Evaluation, 28(1), 60-75. doi: 10.1177/1098214006296245
Hurwit & Associates. (2011). Nonprofit trends, tax exemption, lobbying, governance, liability [Web page]. In Nonprofit law resource library. Retrieved April 15, 2011, from Hurwit & Associates:
King, D. (2010, April 19). Three significant trends in nonprofit financial management [Web page]. Retrieved April 15, 2011, from (Corpus Christi, TX):
Sanders, M. (2009). Business-like or charitable? communication and irrationality in a nonprofit organization. (Doctoral dissertation, University of Colorado at Boulder, 2008). DAI-A 69/07. Retrieved from

Suggested Citation:

Connors, T. D. (2016, February 22). Resolving False Dilemma by Achieving Excellence [Overlooking a broader, values-based perspective, one incorporating the many commonalities between sectors, has led to a false dilemma perception for many charities of being forced to choose between societal values (“bang for the buck”) versus traditional charitable values (caring and doing good).]. Retrieved from NPO Crossroads:

Perspectives on Ethics: When I am vulnerable, can I trust you?

Is it ethical can often be determined by asking: when I am vulnerable, can I trust you?

Perspectives on Ethics

Ethics and Social Theory

Hosmer (1995) traces the fundamentals of ethics to a variety of social theories that deal with an individual’s need to feel secure – to be comfortable in approaching interactions with others, particularly dependent interactions, and trust in a favorable outcome. When people trust, they willingly increase their vulnerability to the actions of others whose behavior is beyond their control. When people trust, they consciously regulate their dependence on someone else in various ways depending on the person, the task, and the situation. In other words, when we trust we except our vulnerability and dependence on the actions of others because a greater good is expected to be attained.

The act of trusting includes the expectation that the person organization on whom we are depending will perform an action or provide a service in a way that is beneficial to us and not detrimental. These expectations explain why we forgo or delay taking defensive actions. Hosmer (1995) explains trust based on four moral values, including:

  • integrity (our assessment of the person organization’s honesty and truthfulness);
  • competence (the collective evaluation and assessment of interpersonal skills and technical knowledge needed to successfully perform the function we are seeking);
  • consistency (predictability and good judgment); and,
  • reliability (their willingness to protect and support our interests, to do so willingly, and to freely share ideas and information).

The process of elaborating upon and acting according to our value structure, i.e., ethics, represents values in practice, as well as the assessment and critique of values. When values, responsibilities, or rights, are in conflict, an ethical dilemma can present itself (Mitzen, 1998).

Ethics is a process that includes analyzing and assessing those components used to define and justify morality in its various forms, e.g., logic, values, beliefs, and principles (Cooper, 2006). Ethics considers the articulated or mandated moral code and examines it to better determine its meaning and purpose. Ethics attempts to explain and assess moral conduct through systematic reflection and reasoning (Cooper, 2006). Descriptive ethics attempts to identify and explain the underlying assumptions and connections to conduct. Normative ethics articulates supportable cases and arguments for particular conduct in a specific situation (Cooper, 2006).

Ethics has two essential orientations: deontological (duty to uphold ethical principles without regard for the consequences of one’s actions); and, teleological (concern for the consequences or outcome of one’s conduct). As Cooper (2006) points out, ethics should involve a more systematic consideration of the values and principles that effect the choices we make, their consistency with our duties, and the incident consequences toward which they lead.

Ethical Dilemma

A dilemma (from Greek, ambiguous situation), apparently forces us to choose between two, often contradictory, alternatives. I say “apparently,” since a reasoned, deliberate and orderly assessment of the issue can often produce different alternatives, much better suited for solutions or resolution. As an aside, this form of false or fallacious reasoning – is known as false dilemma (or false dichotomy, fallacy of bifurcation, or black-or-white fallacy).

Meneghetti and Seel (2001) emphasize the importance for NPO executives to be able to deal with real-life ethical dilemmas that are both rich and context and consequence. An ethical dilemma, they explain, typically includes five fundamental characteristics:
• it is hard to name precisely;
• it is embedded within a specific individual or organizational context;
• it may not even be obvious;
• the claims of multiple stakeholders are involved and should be addressed; and,
• that involves a situation where the manager or leader wants or intends to do the right thing, but may not know what the proper course of action may be or how to accomplish it (Meneghetti & Seel, 2001).

The authors outline a four-step ethical decision-making model in which: the primary stakeholders are identified; the problem is addressed from the point of view of each of the identified stakeholders (including the key ethical values being violated); actions determined that should be taken given each stakeholders concerns; and, a decision finalized once the positive and negative consequences of each action are better known. The objective, they explain, is to choose the option that, on balance, minimizes harm, reduces negative consequences, and produces the greatest balance of good in the long term (Meneghetti & Seel, 2001).

In my view, both models could be strengthened by incorporating their relevant steps into a rational model that suggests a more nuanced process. The following model represents an ethical decision-making process incorporating the views of both Cooper and Meneghetti and Seel (2001).

Ethical behavior

Typically, we can identify three major areas where ethical problems can arise, according to Mitzen (1998), including: business practices; employee relations; and, interactions and relations within the larger community or external operating environment. Ethical behavior toward its own staff and volunteers should be a foundation and a given for any nonprofit organization. This includes meaningful communication, and a supportive environment where even whistle blowing, with its inherent potential for divisiveness and conflict, is seen as an expression of several fundamental core values, e.g., responsibility to the publics being served. Organizational core values should be clearly articulated, and clear policies developed as to how they are operationalized.

Nonprofit organizations should have “organizational ethics mechanisms,” that identify how the organization educates its people regarding ethics related issues and how it integrates ethics into its operations and organizational structure (Mitzen, 1998).

Ethical decision making model

Cooper (2007, p. 31) introduces his readers to a five-step ethical decision-making model, the objective of which is to challenge us to think about what is needed to move from an ethical problem facing us, to a reasoned, orderly, sequential course of assessment and analysis intended to resolve or solve the challenging issue. His model represents a framework through and by which a determination can be reached and a rational, fact-based decision achieved for the most promising course of action. The author correctly points out that no on model can provide the single best possible or “correct” solution. It can however, provide a template through and by which the problem is assessed, evaluated, and converted into an opportunity to creatively designed “the best solutions for a given individual in a specific situation within the uncertainties and time limits of real administrative life” (Cooper, 2007, p. 30).

Rather than accept Cooper’s ethical decision-making model as the definitive illustration for the steps in ethical decision-making process, we should remember there are a wide variety of potential models suggested proposed for decision-making, in general. Depending on the situation, those faced with an ethical issue or dilemma might well consider using Cooper’s model and others as guides that can be adapted to the situation, producing a more specific and situationally focused ethical decision-making model.

As McDermott (2011) points out, there are a number of decision-making models from which to choose. The manager even has to make a decision as to the one best suited for the situation, e.g., rational models, intuitive models, rationalist-iterative models, as well as models that have been suggested in a variety of “steps.” Cooper’s model most closely resembles the six-step, rational decision-making model that includes the following phases: define the situation and the desired outcome; research and identify options; compare and contrast each alternative and its consequences; make a decision or choose an alternative; design and implement an action plan; and evaluate results (McDermott, 2011).

Figure 1 Ethical Decision-making process modelEthical Decision Making Process


The term “role” has its origins in medieval Latin and the word ro(tu)lus, a roll of parchment, that in turn was derived from earlier Latin rotulus, a small wheel. In the Middle Ages the part or character played by an actor in a dramatic performance was written out on a rolled up parchment or paper. The part soon became associated with the means used to describe and explain what the character did in the performance–a role. Keeping the etymology of the term in mind helps us better understand the meaning and implications of the term as it is used today.
Luthans (1995) explains that a norm – the typically unwritten but generally understood rules of a group, culture, or society for behaviors that are considered not only acceptable, but expected – represents the “oughts” of behavior. Collections of norms represent prescriptions for acceptable behaviors expected by, and sometimes determined by, the group.

A role consists of a defined set and pattern of norms associated with a position (defined or undefined but “understood” by the group), that is filled or acted out by an individual. A role can perhaps best “be defined as a position that has expectations evolving from established norms” (Luthans, 1995, p. 380).

Roles in Management

A role is an organized set of behaviors identified with a position, Mintzberg (1975) explained. He noted that formal authority is the basis for three interpersonal roles, leading to three informational roles. Together, the interpersonal and informational roles provide the tools to play four decisional roles.

Interpersonal relationship roles, include: figurehead role (ceremonial duties); leader role (responsibility for the work of the people in the unit–hiring/firing, motivation, encouragement); and, the liaison role (contacts outside the immediate work unit).
Informational roles, include: monitor and disseminator (collecting/disseminating soft information for his unit/organization); and spokesman (collecting, positioning, and sharing information with outsiders.

Decisional roles include: entrepreneur (identify new ideas and pursuing opportunities that advance the organizational unit’s objectives); disturbance handler (responding to changes and pressures affecting performance of the unit organization); resource allocator (decisions relating to allocations of resources and the empowerment of subordinates decisions and program contributions).

Collectively, Mintzberg (1978) suggests the managerial role represents a gestalt – an integrated whole greater than the sum of its individual parts. The managers performance depends directly on the extent to which he or she understands and effectively response to the demands and dilemmas of the position. Although often tempted by the short-term benefits of “busy work”, managers should resist the pressures of superficiality by giving serious attention to those issues that require it by keeping the broad picture in mind and by using a variety of analytical inputs” (Mintzberg, 1978, p. 60).


The term we use to describe the worth of an object or concept – its monetary status, desirability, usefulness, importance to the possessor, utility, or merit – is “value.” The term can be traced back to its Latin roots of “valere,” to be strong, to be of value. It can even be traced back to the Indo-European language, from which so many of our present day languages originate, where it meant “to be strong,” “to rule,” “force,” or “power” (Morris, 1981, p. 1415).

Values typically refers to those “strong and enduring beliefs that motivate and define behavior. Values inform the choices we make. They are a statement of what is ‘good’ for individuals and for society” (Mitzen, 1998, p. 103). Values define those things we believe in, and what we consider important in our life and work.

Meneghetti and Seel ( 2001) point out, values represent strongly held attitudes and beliefs regarding what is desirable. However, not all values necessarily have an ethical component, e.g., power per se is neither good nor bad. Those values not having broad societal implications and that are typically held private are considered morals. These attitudes and beliefs held by individuals regarding what is worthwhile or good, are derived from and influenced by family, culture, society, and religion. Typically, public values are considered ethical values, more universally accepted beliefs about what is right or wrong.

Values and Roles

Each role “comes equipped” witha set of values attached that reflect guidelines to behaviors expected for those “playing” that part, e.g. leader value of “cheerleader” (motivator).

Discriminatory behavior

Discrimination includes treating or considering, or making distinctions regarding a person or some other entity based on the group, class, or category to which that person or entity belongs, rather than on individual merits (USLegal, 2011). Trevino and Nelson (2007) explain that discrimination can occur in cases where considerations other than qualifications affect how an employee or associate is treated. For example, the committee identified a minority member to survey a minority population on an issue that should have had nothing to do with one’s identification with or membership of a group other than that of “employee.”

Discrimination represents an important ethical issue and problem in the workplace due to its corrosive effect on perceptions of fairness. When the workplace is not fair, ultimately our entire legal system promising justice and protection of individual rights is in jeopardy.

Many case studies reviewed by students outline possible cases of de facto discrimination that could rapidly devolve into the condition known as a “hostile work environment.” Further, the conditions as outlined in some case studies, if valid (not simply perceived) could meet the requirements for an official investigation, followed by official action.

Values conflicts and ethical dilemmas

Values conflicts presented as ethical dilemmas will certainly face all of us as managers from time to time, and there may be no completely satisfactory resolution. This eventuality must not be used to rationalize their moral or unethical behavior.
Codes of ethics, although helpful, cannot be depended on to solve all values conflicts. In fact, some may use them to appear to “stay within the law” while actually infringing on truly ethical conduct.

Unethical actions can really be hidden and self enforcement helps insulate the manager and the organization from external scrutiny, or enforcement. Finally, as leaders and managers of our respective organizations, we have a personal and professional interest in being alert to potential ethical dilemmas in situations, and to employ an orderly ethical decision-making process to seek effective resolution.


Morals or morality, originating from the Latin word for “custom,” typically refer to those judgments and characteristics of our actions that can be defined according to our core values as good” or “bad/evil.” Morality is assessed using various standards or precepts of goodness or codes of behavior. Morality represents a set of customs within a society, class, or social group that attempt to regulate relationships and prescribed behaviors that enhance the group’s survival (Morris, 1981, p. 853).

Morality is based on presumption of what is an accepted mode of behavior that is established or provided by an authoritative source, e.g., religion, culture (including that within a group organization), social class, community, or family (Cooper, 2006).

Ethos as Moral Custom

The Greek term for a moral custom was ethos, a meaning which has expanded for hundreds of years to now include a principle of right, correct, or good conduct, including a body of such principles. Ethical came to mean a practice that was conducted within the accepted definitions of right and wrong, and governed the conduct of the group. Ethics represents the general study of morals, including the rules or standards by which the conduct of a group or profession are evaluated and judged (Morris, 1981).

Codes of Conduct

Organizational codes of conduct – ethical standards – can be seen as articulations and declarations of core values and acceptable behavior on the part of the individual or organization that its actions and decisions can, indeed, be trusted. Applied to ethics, Hosmer (1995) suggests that trust is the result of behavior that recognizes and protects the interests of others – the overriding goal being to increase cooperation and achieved benefits within a joint endeavor or exchange.

Trust is a relationship in which some personal or organizational vulnerability is accepted because our analysis suggests a collective, general optimism is justified in a mutually beneficial outcome based on expectations or conditions of moral (socially expected and /or defined as acceptable) behavior.

Codes of ethics and conduct such as those endorsed by APA, represent the standards of practice supported, espoused, and directed by that organization. The codes delineate and outline the collective values of that professional organization, and typically cover a number of ethical areas and considerations. Most codes of ethics and conduct include two major components, including: definitions and explanations for recommended or mandatory professional behavior on the part of those professionals practicing in that field; and, what Kocet (2006) explains is encouragement regarding ethical reflection to help clarify and improve the fundamental ethical beliefs held by that profession.

A hypothetical but realistic scenario facing some NPO leaders and managers today might be assessed using this blended model along the following lines…
Awareness of situation…
The human services nonprofit organization for which you serve as the Executive Director, has recently lost the source of revenue on which the organization depended to fund the volunteer resource manager position.
Situational description…
In an effort to balance the organization’s budget before reaching a dangerous state of insolvency, the organization’s personnel committee, comprised of three members of the Board of Directors, has met and is prepared to recommend the termination of the paid staff position of volunteer resource manager, in favor of replacing that staff member with a volunteer.

Stakeholder identification…

Board of Directors
Their loyalty to the organization and their sense of fiduciary responsibility, represent important core values in play.
NPO senior staff
Loyalty to the organization, loyalty to staff, fairness, professionalism, teamwork, integrity, and mutual respect are among the core values initially identified as important to senior staff members.
Volunteer resource manager
Security, fairness, loyalty, professionalism, are all expected core value issues with the staff member most directly affected by the committee’s recommendation.
There are other potential stakeholders that could be considered in this explanation, e.g., the organizations volunteer corps, the membership, clients depending on the volunteer services, and the community at large.
The Board of Directors feels a primary responsibility to their fiduciary duties and seeks an outcome of a balanced budget.

The senior organizational staff are quite concerned about the negative ramifications of a pending termination on the organization’s morale and esprit de corps, its operational effectiveness in light of a change in volunteer management from seasoned professional to an individual lacking equivalent training, and the devastating economic consequences to the soon-to-be former volunteer resource management professional. The senior staff would prefer to retain their colleague and to ensure the continuation of the organizations exemplary record in human services delivery through its effectively managed volunteer resource program.

The volunteer resource manager, although not yet aware of the pending recommendation from the committee, can certainly be expected to be devastated by the news. The potential for “political” fallout from the individual should be considered significant. Clearly, their desired outcome would be that the issue never presented itself in the first place, and that they be retained in their present position.
Selected course of action: following a confidential meeting of the senior staff in which the situation was reviewed in great detail in terms of ethical principles, moral rules, and potential ramifications, the senior staff voted to accept a temporary 5% pay cut to ensure the continuation of the volunteer resource manager until additional funding sources could be identified. The group decision unified the staff around a common purpose, reaffirmed important core values for them and for the organization, and upheld the Board of Director’s fiduciary responsibilities, including the continuation of a balanced budget.

Ethical perspective in NPO management literature since 1980
Nonprofit Organization Handbook, 1980
Nonprofit Organization Handbook, 1980

One approach to achieving better understanding of an emerging trend is to do so within what could be seen as an historical perspective or framework. In this case, the baseline for the framework is the publication in 1980 of the first Nonprofit Organization Handbook (Connors, 1980).

The handbook was organized around the premise that regardless of the specific human service provided by a nonprofit organization, all shared seven fundamental areas of management, including: organization and corporate principles; leadership, management and control; sources of revenue; human resource development and management; fiscal management (budgeting, accounting, and record-keeping); and, public relations and communications.

A review of the index for this first edition reveals a single entry under the category “ethics.” The context in which it was used within the book was an observation that “a growing number of nonprofit organizations now employ a professional manager, a full-time paid employees and supervisors and is responsible for the daily routine business of the organization” (Connors, 1980b, p. 2-70). The single reference to ethics and this major handbook appeared when the author noted that the area of managing nonprofit organizations has become a profession itself “with its own high code of ethics and standards” (Connors, 1980b, p. 2-70).


Over the next 21 years five subsequent major handbooks focused on nonprofit organization management were published, the latest in 2001 (Connors, 2001). A review of the index for this volume offers a startling contrast to the first NPO handbook. The subject of ethics appears throughout the book with multiple page coverage focused on ethics in all aspects of managerial behavior and policy, including: behavior; budgeting; compensation practices; fundraising; human resource management; international business; and, numerous mentions of professional codes of conduct. An entire chapter is devoted to “Ethics and Values in the Nonprofit Organization” (Meneghetti & Seel, 2001). Clearly ethics is now understood to be a critical component of NPO management and decision-making.

Ethics and Public Trust

Dr. Joan Pynes contributed a most important chapter to the The Volunteer Management Handbook (Second Edition), entitled, “Professional Ethics for Volunteers” (Pynes, 2011). The author points out that to survive nonprofits must maintain public trust. One important component of that collective trust is based on paid staff and organizational volunteers fulfilling their responsibilities in a lawful, ethical, and competence manner. This objective far exceeds simply complying with formal controls, program reports, and financial audits. Instead, it is vitally important that nonprofits establish an aspirational internal ethical climate.

Pynes (2011) recommends that NPO managers establish a strategic human resource management program that uses defined and formal systems within the organization to ensure the most effective use of staff and volunteer resources to fulfill the organization’s mission. There is no doubt the nonprofit sector currently faces many daunting challenges. Nor is there any doubt that new problems and changes within external and internal environments will constantly present themselves to all of our managers and leaders.

The people on whom our nonprofits depend to fulfill our organizational missions, are highly affected by the cultures we establish within which they must participate and contribute. Clearly articulated values, ethical principles, and codes that explain how our ethics are interpreted and used for action and decision-making, are highly significant –they define our culture and the relationships between those who were members of that culture. When inevitable ethical dilemmas present themselves, the successful NPO executive will know to follow a well-defined ethical decision-making process to find the best possible solution or resolution.

Suggested citation:

Connors, T. D. (2016, February 17). Perspectives on ethics: When I am vulnerable, can I trust you? [Is it ethical can often be determined by asking: when I am vulnerable, can I trust you?]. Retrieved from NPO Crossroads:


Connors, T. D. (1980). The nonprofit organization handbook. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Cooper, T. L. (2006). The responsible administrator: An approach to ethics for the administrative role (5th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass/Wiley.
Hosmer, L. T. (1995, April). Trust: The connecting link between organizational theory and philosophical ethics. Academy of Management Review, 20(2), 379-404. doi:10.5465/AMR.1995.9507312923
Kocet, M. M. (2006, Spring). Ethical challenges in a complex world: Highlights of the 2005 ACA Code of Ethics. Journal of Counseling & Development, 84(2), 228-234.
Luthans, F. (1995). Organizational behavior (7th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
McDermott, D. (2011). Six step decision making process [Web page]. Retrieved April 16, 2011, from
Meneghetti, M. M., & Seel, K. (2001). Ethics and values in the nonprofit organization. In T. D. Connors (Ed.), The nonprofit handbook: Management (3rd ed.) (pp. 579-609). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Son.
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